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High school pupils given DNA demonstration

Pupils from Uxbridge High School were given a glimpse into the world of molecular cloning as Brunel University London’s biosciences team welcomed them into the lab for a hands-on demonstration.

The molecular biology procedures they experienced are used for such a vast number of technical and medical applications and are of such importance that they have been incorporated into the curriculum of high school biology classes.

However, while being a routine procedure in molecular biology laboratories all over the world, the steps involved can be hard for pupils to visualise.

In the collaboration between Uxbridge High School and researchers of the division of biosciences at Brunel University London, a Year 13 class extracted chromosomal DNA from tomatoes – a visual introduction to the enormous amounts of the genetic material in our cells.

This DNA could be used as a template for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a process not only needed for molecular cloning but also for medical and forensics diagnostics.

The pupils successfully combined all necessary components for a PCR and verified the success of their work by agarose gel electrophoresis, another routine procedure with a vast number of applications in modern molecular biology laboratories.

The event was a chance for pupils to see how the procedures learned in the classroom are used in everyday scientific research. “It was an excellent experience to learn about a topic from an individual who has dedicated a large part of his life teaching it” said Dhaval Joshi. “I got to see a side of biology that is outside the textbook and the school classroom.”

Biosciences lecturer at Brunel Dr Christian Rudolph, who arranged the visit, said: “This was a great opportunity to combine aspects of modern research techniques that we use in our laboratories on a daily basis with the great teaching facilities that we can offer here at Brunel.

“It was fantastic to see how the students were able to directly experience the techniques they had discussed in class and how they began to realise for how many different applications these general methods are used in research laboratories all over the world.”

Amrit Mangat, a science teacher at Uxbridge High School, added: “The research day at Brunel gave our students a chance to enhance their knowledge of the genetic techniques we had previously discussed in school.

“At the same time, they gained invaluable experience of university life, interacting with a lecturer, post graduates, researchers within their fields and Brunel students.”

The event, held last year as a pilot in the teaching laboratories of the division of biosciences, was such a success that it was not only repeated for the second time but will be a regular occurrence in future years.